Can non lethal damage draw blood? Does it leave bruises? Is it possible to knock a character out with non-lethal damage without leaving a mark?

For the purposes of this question, consider a mark to be any indication of violence that would be obvious to a non-casual observer.


4 Answers 4


Non-lethal damage in any edition represents a variety of ways of incapacitating the opponent, so it really depends on how this non-lethal damage is applied to the target. Loss of a few hit points has a debatable meaning, but once you've actually reduced someone to zero hit points there's no uncertainty about what "hit points" actually represent: they're so damaged that they're incapacitated. So, assuming you've knocked them out via dealing non-lethal damage equal to their hit points:

  • Beating someone with the flat of a blade enough to knock them unconscious will always leave a bruises, welts, bleeding contusions, and other major marks of damage.

  • Whipping someone until they pass out will necessarily break the skin.

  • Hitting someone over the head with a sap sufficiently hard to knock them out will raise a bump, if not leave them bleeding from a split scalp. A bump might not be obvious under hair, though.

  • Suffocating someone in a way that does not put pressure on their windpipe (say, an air-tight bag over the head or a hand over nose and mouth, and being very careful to not let them injure themselves while they thrash around) won't leave a mark. Usually.

  • Suffocating them or cutting off the flow of blood to the brain by strangling will definitely leave a mark, either fingerprints or a band where a garrotte was used to apply pressure.

    • The exception here is choke-hold types of attacks that use broadly-applied pressure. Those won't leave marks. (Though whether you call these "strangling" is arguable and probably beside the point.)
  • Choking someone with a choke-hold is likely to cause capillaries in their face to burst, creating a pattern of mild bruising.

However, this also depends on the nature of the target:

  • A person is soft and squishy. Non-lethal damage enough to take them out will almost always show, as above.

  • A dragon is heavily armoured with scales. Beating one into submission with the flat of a blade might not leave signs of damage. Something covered with scales is unlikely to show bruises or scrapes, as the scales will hide the injury to the soft tissues beneath.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm still waiting for the day I see some epic warrior beat a dragon up with the flat of his/her blade! \$\endgroup\$
    – IEatBagels
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 18:43
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @TopinFrassi In at least one edition (AD&D), defeating a dragon with the flat of your blade was the canonical way to acquire a subdued dragon that would permit you to ride it. It was not accomplished very often! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 18:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's epic! I should fight with the flat of my blade more often. Maybe I'll subdue a peasant that'll let me ride him (ehm, lol). \$\endgroup\$
    – IEatBagels
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 18:51

Dungeons and Dragons uses an extremely abstract damage system. A hit for normal damage could mean:

  • The target wasn't actually in danger, but is unnerved by the attack.
  • The target dodged out of the way, and was missed entirely.
  • The target parried or deflected the blow.
  • The target was scratched by the attack.
  • The target was injured by the attack, but not badly.
  • The target was grievously injured by the attack, but manages to keep going anyway.

The only real observation the rules make on the issue is that (non-contact) poison triggers on successful damage, indicating that the skin has been broken in some way.

As nonlethal damage is damage for all intents and purposes, yes, nonlethal damage can cause bleeding.

Exactly what marks are left on the target when they are subdued is entirely up to the DM.

From my extensive experience watching TV, it seems like knocking someone out usually involves a fair amount of force (usually a swift blow to the head or upper body). Such a blow is going to leave bruising, although it might be somewhere out of sight (covered by hair, beneath clothes, etc.).

"Sleeper holds" and nerve-pinches are sometimes employed, which I would probably allow for grappling/martial-arts themed characters.

Characters explicitly trying to minimize visible bruising could do so with a circumstance penalty, which would increase the longer combat went on.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. HP doesn't always mean physical endurance, it is also used for mental attacks. Non-lethal damage only means they don't die, though they could have sustained plenty of other non-life threatening injuries. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cam
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 0:26
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ To follow up on this, as a DM I would allow characters to specify that they were attempting to leave as little evidence as possible. I would get them to describe their tactics (cops roughing up a crook by punching through a phone book?), and probably get them to make some kind of check to determine how well they did it... Intimidate comes to mind, but others could apply too depending on the nature of the attacks. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 25, 2012 at 1:54

Remember: drawing blood and bleeding for continuing effect are very different concepts.

Non-lethal damage is nothing that takes more than a few minutes to "heal" - a split lip is, effectively, healed once the lip stops bleeding; similarly a bloody nose that stops in a few minutes is no threat to life. A few scrapes likewise might have small amounts of surface bleeding.

Broken bones and deep bruises probably don't fit with that.


Can non lethal damage draw blood? Does it leave bruises? Is it possible to knock a character out with non-lethal damage without leaving a mark?

I do not know that the answers to these question have any direct application for 4th edition mechanics, but I do know that they have profound implication on story telling and game immersion. The "non-lethality" option for the final damage done to a creature allows us excellent opportunities to explore the game world. Below, while responding to the OP's questions, I make comments that you can use in your game to verbally describe attacks and their immediate and potential long-term effects.

Can non lethal damage draw blood?

  • Yes, non-lethal damage draws blood outside of the human body when attacks with the potential to rupture blood vessels and breach the skin are made. Slicing, maceration, laceration, forceful blunt trauma, penetrating wounds, slashing are among the attacks that have this potential.
  • The carotid(neck), radial(forearm), brachial(arm), popliteal (back of knee), and temporal (forehead) arteries are particularly vital and vulnerable sites where a lot of blood can be yielded in a short amount of time, often proving lethal unless quickly addressed. It is up to the player / DM to flavor attacks that hit these areas, and to find similar vital places in non-humanoid enemies (assuming they HAVE a circulatory system).

Does it leave bruises?

  • Any damage, non-lethal or lethal, that has the potential to rupture a blood vessel might cause bruising. Attacks that often leads to this type of injury are usually blunt trauma, or shearing or concussive forces.
  • In the immediate post-trauma period, redness would appear indicating local inflammation from the attack. If a large vessel is ruptured, it will take on a fluctuant appearance. The typical "blue / black" mark is not visible until hours to days later, eventually turning to yellow as the heme in the blood is metabolized.

Is it possible to knock a character out with non-lethal damage without leaving a mark?

  • A human loses consciousness when neuronal function is disrupted by any of the following: extreme cold, lack of blood flow, lack of oxygen, lack of glucose (nutrients), structural damage, electric disruption, extreme brain inflammation, ionic imbalance, extreme stress or fatigue, pathologic brainstem regulation of sleep, or normal sleep.

    • Traumatic means that would not likely cause a mark include: concussive trauma in which there is no physical impact with a solid stucture (sonic boom), shearing forces such as extreme gravity or acceleration (jet pilots loose can loose consciousness in extreme G), suffocation by means of vaccum, over-exerting the person through psychological means (psychic damage), extreme pain.

    • Traumatic means that might cause a mark: a neck hold or tie that puts pressure on both carotid arteries, a padded physical head blow that causes neural shearing or cranial blood vessel rupture rather than direct external physical trauma, extreme cooling / cold, suffocation by means of compression of respiratory organs, electrical shock, direct damage to the heart.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .